Barbridge in the mist

From Barbridge Junction to Tom's Moorings, a distance of 15 miles, 2¼ flg and 22 locks.

After spending ages stuck in queues at locks and knowing that most of the boats that were going the same way as us would either be heading for Hurleston Junction  and the Shropshire Union Canal (Llangollen Canal) , or would be heading south to do the Four Counties Ring in a crazy number of days we decided that an early start would be a sensible thing to do. So Kathy and I got up and found we were surrounded by thick mist. We cast off and cruised past lots of moored boats, about 70% of which were facing south, so obviously no-one else could be bothered getting up.

As we came along the embankment towards Nantwich Aqueduct I noticed that a lot of boats on the 48 hour moorings were exactly the same ones as had been there when we’d come through on the first day of the holiday and moored in the same places. Now Nantwich is a popular destination and the visitor moorings are always in demand and it seems silly that BW are quite happy to let boats just sit there and blatantly break the 48 hour limit by a significant amount.

The misty morning was starting to turn a bit damp and it wasn’t getting any warmer either and when we arrived at Hack Green it actually seemed to be darker than it had been when we got up and unless you looked at a watch you really would have had no idea of the time of day.

Coole Pilate Moorings had quite a few boats moored up, and to be honest if we didn’t have to be back on the moorings I’d have been tempted to join them.

By the time we reached Audlem Bottom Lock No 27 the weather was starting to clear up and it was almost sunny. The passage up the locks went pretty well, surprisingly well considering we were on a really popular canal in the middle of the school Easter holidays, the canal was busy but everything seemed to be working well and there were no major holdups

By the time we left the top lock it was a completely different day and the sun was out. We sailed through Adderley locks and Kathy and I sat on the front deck and soaked up the sun.

We got back onto the moorings mid afternoon and luckily the public moorings opposite our pontoon were not totally full because its a bit of a pain getting back into our slot if there are boats on the towpath side.

The long push south

From Dutton Wharf Bridge No 212 to Barbridge Junction, a distance of 24 miles, 6¼ flg and 8 locks.

For various reasons, which this blog is not going in to, Kathy and I were still on the boat when we should have got off at Wigan, this of course meant that we were actually running out of time to get the boat back to its moorings.

So it was another early start for some of the crew. I was lazy and had a lie in and apparently I missed some wonderful photo opportunities as the Weaver valley was full of mist.

We arrived at Saltersford Tunnel (West end)  at just the wrong time and had to wait almost the maximum length of time before it was our slot to go into the tunnel.

We were about 40 feet in when I saw what looked like navigation lights in the tunnel and I sounded the horn and got a blast back. There was a boat coming towards us with NO headlight. They were almost at our end of the tunnel so we backed out and out they came, with no headlight on and no explanation of what the hell was going on. We told them that they had no headlight and they didn’t seem to care, and when we pointed out that they were in the tunnel when they shouldn’t have been and it was the slot for traffic at our end to go in (actually we were about 12 minutes into the slot by now which gives you some idea of just how wrong they were)  they just looked at us as if we were mad, pretended not to know what on earth we were talking about and didn’t even have the decency to thank us for backing out for them.

The Winding Hole between Barnton and Saltersford Tunnels  seems to be a popular place to moor up and looking at the number of artisically arranged beer cans and bottles someone had had a pretty good party the night before and they’d gone to bed leaving their chairs outside. There was no sign of life, for obvious reasons and the canal stayed pretty quiet right up to Anderton.

We pulled in at Anderton Services to get rid of the rubbish and to top up the water tank and to empty out the PortaPotty.

For an Easter Sunday the canal was still pretty quiet and we made good progress. We made good progress until we arrived belowMiddlewich Bottom Lock No 74 and thats where we joined the back of a rather long queue. It was a combination of the number of boats and some inexperienced crews and once we got into the locks we went through them quite quickly and then got stuck at Middlewich Junction in a queue to go through Wardle Lock No 4. Again once we were through the lock there wasn’t really much of a queue and we made quite good progress back to Nanneys Bridge No 8 where we joined the back end of a rather long queue. We exchanged pleasantries with Pete as we slowly moved forward. Nick and I did some work in the kitchen putting metal facings up round the cooker and by the time we’d done that we were ready to go through the lock. We got snarled up for a bit at Cholmondeston Lock No 1  but by this time I think some people were giving up for the day. But we wanted to push on, knowing that most of the traffic heading this way was going to be heading down the Shroppie. It was getting quite late when we swung south at Barbridge Junction and pulled over onto the visitor moorings for the night

Out of Manchester

From Astley Bridge No 58 to Dutton Wharf Bridge No 212, a distance of 30 miles, 7¼ flg and 1 lock.

Easter Saturday, and you think that you’d see some boats on the move wouldn’t you? Well we didn’t. We pretty much had the canal to ourselves again. All the way through Worsley and over Barton Swing Aqueduct and right through Trafford Park we saw just about no-one.

Kathy and I ended up phoning the RSPCA because by the Kellogg’s factory there was a Canada Goose with a crossbow bolt through its neck. It seemed to be swimming and breathing OK and not in pain but what sort of sick person shoots at birds like that. OK they’re a bit a of pest but you wouldn’t do that to your dog or your brother so why do it to a bird? We gave them the details and they said they had another report of another goose in a similar situation, so I guess there are just some very very sick people in Manchester.

When we got to Sale there were still a surprising number of boats on the Sale Cruising Club moorings which probably tells you a lot about just how big the club is. The rowers were out in force with at least three of the bigger boats being sculled up and down the canal, along with countless single sculled ones, populated almost entirely by people who didn’t seem to know what they were doing, maybe it was an open day or something?

We got a pumpout done at Oughtringham Bridge No 24 which has some pretty good opening times that are not just 9-5, and then we called in at Thorne Marine at Stockton Quay Bridge No 15 where we picked up a new fuel filter, some diesel bug killer and a hand held pump so we could pump the gloop from the bottom of the tank.

The canal was now actually quite busy but not so busy that we were in a queue and felt that we were either being held up by the boat in front or being pushed by the boat behind.

The Post Office atMoore Bridge No 7 sells some provisions and the towpath is in good condition so you can easily pull in and send some crew off over the road to the shop.

Actually we seemed to spend quite a bit of time popping in out of places buying things, we stopped at Midland Chandlers to see if they had any additives we could put in the tank to soak up any water. They had some stuff but it was a seriously silly amount of money so it stayed on the shelf.

When we were waiting at Preston Brook Tunnel (North end) for the transit window we pumped some more of the bottom of the tank and it was pretty unpleasant, and between that, and some pumping we’d done earier we probably took half a gallon of sludge and gloop out of the bottom of the tank.

We followed a couple of boats through the tunnel and we cruised on for a bit looking for a good mooring. The Trent and Mersey along here has some really bad edges and finding places where you can put Mintball in to the side is hard but eventually we found a good spot in a cutting by Dutton Wharf Bridge No 212

Rickrolled

From Crabtree Swing Bridge No 32 to Astley Bridge No 58, a distance of 22 miles, 3½ flg and 8 locks.

It was another quiet morning when we set off, the start of the Easter weekend so probably a little early to expect a lot of boats on the move, but we saw a couple at Burscough and when we got back to Glover’s Swing Bridge No 33  the broken down boat was not there which was probably a good thing as there was a single handed boat coming down the canal.  Parbold was pretty quiet and we got through Appley lock with no real problems but we got stuck in a queue at Dean Locks No 90, where if the second lock had still been in working order we could have gone through it and got past the boat that was being really slow. We worked through Dean and through Hell Meadow Lock No 89  and  Pagefield Lock No 88 with another boat and then we had to wait round at Wigan Bottom Lock No 87  for a couple of boats to come down. I walked ahead to the next lock but had to come back because we’d run aground on something and in the rocking and tilting to get off what ever it was the engine decided to stop. Nick and I dug out the spanners and found that the fuel lines and fuel filter were full of a mix of water and sludge. Mintball had fallen foul of the dreaded diesel bug, that and obviously some dodgy diesel somewhere in the past few years and when we’d tipped over it had put the intake line into the gloopy mess.

So we emptied the fuel filters, and manually primed the pump to get any sludge out of the lines and then we opened up the lines to the injectors and manually bled those out before cranking the engine and closing each injector in turn. The engine started with a lot of smoke and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the battery ammeter read that sort of charge for that length of time for quite a while.

The weather had turned pretty dismal by now and it was a wet and miserable Wigan we said farewell to as we dropped down onto the Leigh Branch.

We met quite a lot of boats heading towards Wigan, It looked like most of Sale Cruising Club were out for the Easter weekend and it actually made a nice change to see people on the move. The wind on the section past Dover Lock  was as bad as it had been a couple of days earlier and with the rain adding to the mix it wasn’t really the most enjoyable of afternoons.  We met another convoy of boats just after we had passed through Plank Lane Bridge No 8, again from Sale Cruising Club.

There was a large group of teenage (just) kids hanging out under Leigh Bypass Road Bridge No 9A , not sure what they were doing or going to do, and I think we’ll leave that at that.

We stopped for the night just before Astley Bridge No 58  where there are no official moorings but the canal is deep and the bank is good. There are two pubs in Astley Green, both quite near the canal, we went to the one furthest from the canal and nearest to the mining museum. The pub had a good range of Real Ale and a pretty impressive food menu too. It was lively and had an “irish duo” in who actually played a lot of non irish stuff including Green Day.

So why Rickrolled for the title of this entry? Well we did stop at Rick Astley Green didn’t we ?

Swing bridges and winding holes

From Crooke Bridge No 47 to Crabtree Swing Bridge No 32, a distance of 28 miles, 1½ flg and 2 locks.

If there are any sections of canal that Mintball could cruise without anyone at the helm then this would be one of them. Trips from Crooke down to Rufford or Lydiate were a very regular occurrence because they were easy to do with a few crew and a long weekend. So steering it was almost a joy because I knew the canal so well that I could just relax and watch the world go by

It was sad to see that the second parallel lock at Dean Locks No 90  is pretty much derelict, we certainly avoided it and went down the one by the lock keepers house and it was sad to see the two small locks at Appley Lock No 91 have now fallen into dereliction as well. I remember when they used to be derelict and then BW refurbished them and they were a lot easier to use than the single big deep lock. But I guess not enough people used them and I’m not sure how long it took after the storm that washed out Fairy Glen and exposed its long lost tramway, which filled the intermediate pound with silt, for them to fall apart.

As we approached the turn at Parbold Spur we had to wait whilst a large trip boat cast off and turned, rather badly, right in front of us. We pulled in on the visitor moorings but found that the little general stores had closed, we didn’t need much, just some basic supplies like coffee and chocolate biscuits, so it wasn’t a major pain.

Oscar Moss sewage plant made its presence known as we got towards Newburgh Aqueduct No 37A but it was a lot less aromatic than it used to be, which is not saying much. Quite how anyone can live in the farm here I do not know, but its obvious why the canal, which would be ideal for mooring here, is never full of boats.

Glover’s Swing Bridge No 33  was a lot of fun, not because of the bridge itself but because there was a large fake dutch “barge” moored on the landing stage so once I’d got through the bridge there was no where for me to pick up crew. The boat had a little notice stuck in it “Broken Down”. Well I’m sorry that you broke down but you got that far so why not pull the boat through the bridge and pull up beyond the bridge moorings on the other side… is that too much to ask?

The BW buildings at Burscough Bridge are derelict and looking sorry for themselves but the water point still works so we filled up with water and went and did our shopping at the store which is just over the bridge.

Not a lot has changed round here, the dumping ground for Silcocks Fun Fair trucks is still there, as is the factory that cleans and services container tankers. There are a few new houses but not the big sprawling developments like Nantwich.

Crabtree Swing Bridge No 32  is still a pain and quite why it never got properly mechanised I do not know, and the barrier locks are fiddly and the drivers are so very impatient for some reason, anyone would think that they had somewhere important to go.

As you approach Martin Lane Bridge No 29 you can, if the weather is right, see Blackpool Tower on the horizon. Its often  harder to see it during the day than it is at night when its illuminated.

The biggest change on this stretch of canal has to be the new marina at Scarisbrick Bridge No 27A which looks pretty impressive, even if a little empty.

The pub at Downholland Cross Bridge No 20A is derelict and boarded up. The last time we went it there it had stopped being a pub and had turned into a very odd eatery where they seemed to have decided that cramming tables and customers in like sardines was a good business model. Of course that was many years ago now so who knows how well that idea worked.

It was good to see that MMBC are still going strong and their club house at Dicconson’s Bridge No 17 is in good condition and the boats on their moorings do at least look like they go somewhere rather than just act as floating cottages.

We turned in Lydiate Winding Hole and headed back to Crabtree Swing Bridge No 32  where we moored on the visitor moorings right outside “The Slipway” (Which used to be called “The Lathom Slipway”) and spent the night. The pub had changed totally inside but the beer was still good.

Old stomping grounds

From Worsley Footbridge No 51 to Crooke Bridge No 47, a distance of 16 miles, 4 flg and 6 locks.

It felt odd being in Worsley again. The last time I remember being moored here we were moored behind “Tinkerbelle”, which was the next boat, after Mintball, to be built by Ron Tinker. Worsley has changed a lot, the iron stain in the water is much reduced and the hireboat yards are gone, and one of the big pubs has closed.

It was a very quiet night and we made a moderately early start towards Wigan.

Boothstown Basin  had changed a lot since I last went past it. Last time I came past there wasn’t a marina, there weren’t a lot of houses, there wasn’t a closed up pub, but there was a rather large rubbish tip. Ah, how things change.

A lot had changed along the Leigh Branch. Peel Holdings seem to be taking some of their maintenance responsibilities quite seriously and we had to wait for a bit as they moved a mud hopper out of our way where they had been putting in a new stop plank point.

The approach to Leigh really hasn’t improved at all, the canal feels tired and the town still seems to not really care about what could be a big asset, and when you pass the final Bridgewater stop planks and crane and move onto the Leeds and Liverpool not  a lot changes. The whole place feels sad and neglected which is a pity because the market hall is well worth a visit if you need provisions, and it’s just a couple of minutes walk over the bridge.

The scenery as you leave Leigh has changed a lot, and although you are on a high embankment there is less to see than there used to be. The canal is still sinking and in a couple of places the concrete edge is once again level with the water so your wash splashes over the towpath. One thing that has not changed is just how fast you can go along here and it hardly seems as if any time has passed before you reach Plank Lane Bridge No 8  where your BW licence is checked and you continue past the derelict pub (which was still open last time) and continue across the wasteland towards Dover Lock.

As I said, as lot has changed round here, but the wind has not. When it blows it blows, and it pushes you sideways and Mintball assumed her usually “crab” position.

We stopped for lunch near the pub, not because we wanted a drink but because we knew the moorings were good and as usual the wind did its best to stop us mooring.

It is places like Bamfurlong Bridge No 3  and Ince Moss Railway Bridge No 2A  which really show how the landscape has changed round here since the canal was built, with the towpath feet above the canal and almost above roof level.

As we approached Moss Bridge No 2 we saw a bird of prey hovering on the offside and we must have got to within 10 feet of it before it suddenly swooped away.

Poolstock Bottom Lock No 2  hasn’t really changed at all and the winches and chains used to help pull the gates open still come in handy. Poolstock Top Lock No 1 however, has changed. I remember when it was built of wood and leaked like a sieve.

Westwood Power Station is another thing that has changed, in that its gone, but its memory lives on in the various bridges that cross the canal. There are a couple of new bridges before you reach Wigan Junction and take the sharp left turn towards Liverpool.

Henhurst Lock No 86, or Chapel Lane Lock has changed quite a bit, not the lock itself with its crank operated lower gates, but the bridge beyond it. Henhurst Bridge No 52 used to be a solid iron and stone structure which butted right up to the lock with no towpath under it. Now it’s a much bigger bridge, set back from the tail of the lock and it even has a towpath so you don’t need to risk your life crossing the road.

As we approached Dock Yard Lock I felt a little sad. We were approaching the site of the 1983 IWA Rally and the whole area was looking run down. Trencherfield Mill had smashed windows. The old boat yard where Wayfarer Narrowboats were based, and where I worked for several years, and where we met Ron Tinker, who ended up building Mintball, is all derelict, as are the rest of the buildings on the offside between the lock and Pottery Changeline Bridge. Actually there is an awful lot of dereliction round the whole Pier area. The Orwell has closed, as has “The Way We Were”. I know things move on and times change but this was an area that won awards and was a tourist hot spot. Now its derelict and there seem to be no plans to do anything about it. I suppose the only good thing is that if nothing had been done with all the buildings back in 83 then they would have all been knocked down.

Heading out of Wigan you pass what must be an unofficial secret plastic bottle storage compound at Pagefield Lock No 88. One one side of the canal you have the big sheds of the old Pagefield works and on the other, on the far bank of the river Douglas you have the JJB stadium, home of Wigan Athletic football club and Wigan Rugby League club (I refuse to use the stupid name that they adopted when Sky basically bought the game out),

Crooke Farm and the entrance to Crooke Underground Canal where we used to moor Mintball has changed a lot, with more moorings and proper edgings and storage sheds for each mooring.

We moored for the night at Crooke , directly opposite the Crooke Hall Inn where we enjoyed several pints of beer in the evening

Where it all began

From Acton Bridge No 209 to Worsley Footbridge No 51, a distance of 28 miles, 7½ flg and 1 lock.

An early start saw us heading north, hoping that we’d got the timings right to get through the tunnel. When we reached Dutton Stop Lock No 76 there were a couple of boats ahead of us and everyone was trying to work through the lock as fast as possible. To be honest if we’d just pushed both sets of gates open we could have all sailed through with no problems but the first boat wanted to do everything by the book.

We got through the lock and approached Preston Brook Tunnel (South end) and checking on our watches we were about 2 minutes over the entry window, but there was a boat only a couple of hundred feet in front of us so we went in. With the cabin lights on and the doors shut its quite easy to take Mintball through tunnels at a good speed because the light from the rear cabin windows helps you see where the back of the boat is.

We motored through the tunnel and made Preston Brook Tunnel (North end)  with about 5 minutes to spare., so you can work out just how fast we were going. There was a small cabin cruiser waiting quite a way back from the tunnel, who made some stupid comment about how lucky we were that he’d “not decided to go into the tunnel early”.  There are some really odd people on the waterways, and we met some more people like him on the way back, but more about them in a later entry.

The canal immediately north of the tunnel has always puzzled me. The Trent and Mersey Canal (Main Line – Middlewich to Preston Brook) south of the tunnel is a pretty fast piece of canal, as is most of the Bridgewater Canal . But the section north of the tunnel ( the Bridgewater Canal (Preston Brook Branch) ) isn’t, it seems to be shallow and silted up. We chugged slowly past Preston Brook Wharf and Claymoore Boats and under the M56 and onto the main line of the Bridgewater.

I’d forgotten just how rural this part of the canal is, you make rapid progress through open fields passing the Synchrotron tower at Daresbury as you approach Keckwick Bridge No 5.

Its hard to write anything about the Bridgewater canal, its just so, well bland isn’t the right word, maybe nondescript is a better word. There is nothing wrong with the canal at all but there is nothing amazing about it, it just passes you by.

We pulled in at Stockton Quay Bridge No 15 for a pump out and then carried towards Lymm  where we stopped for lunch.

As you approach Timperley  there’s a lot of new development which towers over the canal in a much more dramatic way than any of the old factories and mills that they’ve replaced.

The long straight from Timperley to Sale  is popular with walkers and cyclists and rowers and the canal is wide and deep so even with the long linear mooring for the boat club you can still make good progress.

Stretford – Waters Meeting  marks a sudden change from primarily residental surroundings to primarily industrial as you skirt round the edge of Trafford Park. Approaching Mosley Road Bridge No 44 your nostrils are assailed by smells from the Kellogg’s Cereal factory, and then immediately after that the smells of tar and phenol from the factory on the other side of the bridge, well I hope its from there!

Trafford Park has changed in some ways, but not in others, there are big new business centers and shopping malls but the canal still seems remote from much of this, almost as if all that is important to the canal is to reach the Manchester Ship Canal and Barton Swing Aqueduct

Once over the aquaduct I got the feeling of Deja Vu. Not much has changed, not until you approach the M602 Motorway Bridge No 49 where the entire canal was hidden in clouds of dust from the ongoing demolition of a big mill. The big mill on the towparth side as you approach Monton Turn  has also gone and now there are houses there. Mintball was launched here on a warm June day in 1986.

The approach to Worsley is now dominated by a huge new development called “The Boatyard”, a development which although being canal side seems to just take from the canal and gives nothing back.

We moored up just by Worsley Footbridge No 51 on moorings which were surprisingly empty

Up and down the Lift

From Marbury Woods Footbridge to Acton Bridge No 209, a distance of 12 miles, 5 flg and 2 locks.

It’s odd how plans change. When we originally planned this trip we’d talked about doing the Anderton Lift but we’d bounced schedules back and forth and decided that although it was a brilliant idea there was no real way we could fit it in.

So it came to pass that on this Monday morning we decided that we’d got time to go through the lift, assuming that there were free slots. But that is what boating is about, it’s about being able to make changes like that as you go along.

We arrived on the holding moorings and Nick leapt off and went into the office and came back about 10 minutes later to tell us that we had a slot on the next cycle. He’d checked slots in the afternoon and they were pretty empty so we decided to risk not booking.

I’d never done the Anderton lift before. Nick had last year when they’d done the Weaver, but for the rest of the crew this was a first. We were penned into the lift along with another boat who were going to be spending some time on the Weaver. It was the first time for them too and everyone was determined, despite the artic wind that was blowing, to enjoy the experience.

There were a few delays because they had problems with the seals but then we were on our way. You have to rope the boat up in the lift and when it first starts moving there is this “oh my god, we’ve not undone the ropes and we’re going down” moment but it soon passes and you can enjoy the whole experience which only lasts a few minutes.

Then we were on the Weaver and we headed up stream. Just outside Northwich we had to wait for a minute. There was a large BW crane and flat waiting for Northwich Bridge to be swung. They waved us past, and as they were going to be turning at the BW yard it probably made sense for us to get out of the way.

As we approached Hunt’s Locks No 2  it was hard to work out what was going on. The gates were open and there were two people mowing the grass but there was no indicator on the lock showing if we should go in. So we crept forward and as we approached the two grass mowers came over and took our ropes and worked the lock for us. They asked us how far we were going and we told them that we weren’t going through Vale Royal and they told us to phone them when we were coming back past the boatyard and they’d get the lock ready for us.

The small lock at Vale Royal Locks No 1 fell apart a couple of years ago and so the only lock open there is the big one which uses a lot of water and so they restrict the number of passages a day. Just north of Hartford Bridge they have put a temporary wharf in and there is another up by the lock, so they are obviously starting the rebuilding work and moving stuff by boat is obviously the easiest way to get it there.

We turned just below the lock and headed back downstream, meeting the tug, that had been moving the crane, heading upstream at a pretty impressive speed.

We went back through Hunt’s lock and moored up at the sanitary station by Northwich Bridge to fill up the water tank. This took longer than planned because we had to wait for another boat who were “filling” their tanks. Actually I suspect they’d filled up and just decided to stay for lunch. Certainly we managed to fill our tank in a few minutes as the pressure is pretty impressive and unless the other boat was nothing but a water tank I’m sure my suspicions were right.

We got back to the lift and Nick got us booked in on the 2:30 passage and this time there were no delays and after coming up the lift and turning at Anderton Winding Hole  (because you can only head south from the lift junction due to the way it is angled) we were on our way back North towards Wigan.

Neither Barnton or Saltersford tunnels were as bad as I seemed to remember them being. We lost the radio aerial in one of them on one of our trips south many moons ago but we got through them both with no real problems at all and we made steady progress to Acton Bridge No 209  where we moored for the night. One of the two pubs between the canal and the river has now closed which is a shame.

To The Woods!

From Nantwich Junction Bridge No 92 to Marbury Woods Footbridge, a distance of 22 miles, 2¼ flg and 8 locks.

Despite a good evening drinking in The Vine, where Nick and I had several pints of some very good pints of Hyde’s and discovered a new brewery in Wigan, which would influence our choice of overnight stops round Wigan, we had a pretty reasonable start and chugged off from the visitor moorings with no particular destination planned.

Just after you’ve passed Nantwich Basin you pass the moorings of a cruising club who have a little mooring basin. The basin contains several fibreglass cruisers and a few narrow boats. There is a notice at the entrance warning you not to attempt to turn there because of “shallow” water. What? its a basin with canal boats in it, how shallow can it be? I fully understand why they don’t want people attempting to turn there and they must get a lot of people coming nose first out of Nantwich basin who want to go south and use the mooring basin as a handy winding hole. But “shallow” water? What sort of pathetic reason is that. It blatantly isn’t shallow because they get their boats in and out of it.

The canal was quiet again, I had really expected more boats on the move, not that there ever seem to be any on the move when you pass the Henhull long term moorings, and we arrived at Hurleston Junction having only had to dodge one mad lunatic who seemed to unaware that the canal actually had other boats on it.

There seemed to be quite a few boats moored up round Barbridge Junction and if I was the owner of the first boat on the towpath mooring on the Middlewhich Branch I think I’d ask for another mooring pretty quickly. It does amaze me how many people just don’t seem to make any attempt to actually navigate this junction and prefer to come steaming out of the Middlewich Branch and, with clouds of exhaust smoke and much waving of hands, slam straight into the concrete edging on the far bank.

The last time I cruised along the Middlewich branch was when we were out for a few days in May 1999 when went from Bunbury to Kidsgrove in one day. It hadn’t changed much and although there were a few boats moving round there still weren’t the numbers I expected given that it was now actually quite a reasonable time of day when you would expect boats to be on the move.

We passed through Minshull Lock No 2 with no real problems. We passed The Canal Shop at Nanneys Bridge No 8  but there was no sign of Pete. We would however get plenty of time to talk to Pete on the way back.

The new marina (Aqueduct Marina ) looks quite impressive and I think it was round here on one of our early hireboat holidays that I lost the mop over board. Don’t ask me how or why, it was a long time ago and I don’t remember it clearly.

One advantage of being out in April is that a lot of the trees haven’t got their full foliage so as you approach Lea Hall Bridge No 22 you get a really good view down onto the Top Flash of the River Weaver. The visitor moorings along here are provided, once again by the Shropshire Union Canal Society.

There was a bit of a delay at Wardle Lock No 4 , not helped by the fact that there were boats moored up on the lock moorings, something which, as we found, seems to be normal practice round here. We worked through the lock and stopped just after Middlewich narrowboats for lunch.

The three Middlwich locks were actually quite busy and the 90 degree bend by the dry dock is fun enough at the best of times, but put a canalboat in there who is really sitting on the wrong side and it gets even more interesting. But we got through the locks with no real issues.

Middlewich Big Lock has changed a lot, well not the lock itself but the surroundings. The pubwhich was looking pretty sorry for itself last time I came through here, which was when we were returning Mintball to Wigan after a summer down in Braunston, was bustling and its had a big extension. The other big change is that the factory next to the lock which was in use when we started boating, but had fallen into dereliction by the last trip through, has gone and has been replaced by new housing. But the signs of the credit crunch are visible even in a new development like this and below the lock there are the half finished foundations for the next block of town houses.

The big feature of the canal heading north from Middlewich is the various flashes causes by subsidence. When we first start boating the late 1970s these flashes were full of half sunken derelict boats. Now most of the boats have gone and the flashes look much less menacing now. When we first went past them on our first holiday you would never had dreamt of attempting to turn a boat there, they just looked too dangerous, now they look tranquil and the submerged fences marking the edges have all but gone and I wonder how many unsuspecting travellers they have lured into their trap?

There is no sign of dereliction at Northwich Chemical Works , corrosion and leaks  and lots of steam certainly, but no dereliction.

I’m not quite sure what Colliery Narrowboats think the canal is along here. They seem to think that its their own private property for storing narrowboats on. I have no problem with linear moorings within reason but when they moor them so deep that the canal is no longer wide enough for two boats to pass its really starting to take the piss.

The Lion Salt Works at Marston Bridge No 193 is looking extremely decrepit. I don’t ever really remember it looking in good condition, even when it was open. They are asking for support for “restoration” but to be honest I don’t see how many of those buildings could ever be restored, rebuilt maybe but not restored.

Marbury Woods provides some good moorings on both the towpath and the offside and we stopped for the night just short of Marbury Woods Footbridge

Nantwich or Bust!

From Lords Bridge No 64 to Nantwich Junction Bridge No 92, a distance of 11 miles, 7¼ flg and 22 locks.

Kathy and I had come up the night before and had grabbed supper at The Talbot and had basically got everything ready so that when the rest of the crew arrived we could just load their stuff into the boat and get going.

I was surprised how many boats there were sitting on the moorings and the marina car park was strangely quiet. I had a bit of run in with someone in the estate who objected to me parking my car on the road, “people off boats aren’t allowed to park in the estate”. He seems to have problems with the moorings and the boaters, but frankly if he has problems with them then why did he ever buy a house there, its not like he didn’t know the boats were there when he put the offer in.

Our plan for the day was to get to somewhere near Nantwich, its not an impossible run but it does have Audlem in the middle of it which can be a bit of a bottle neck.

The weather was rather mixed, and it was setting the tone for the whole holiday really. Some sunshine, some cloud, a bit of a gusty wind and that terrible situation where its almost warm enough not to wear a jacket.

Audlem was pretty painless with only a few minor niggles and we got through in a reasonable, but not earth shattering, time.

We went slowly over Nantwich Aqueduct  so that Katherine and Francis could see the cars on the road below us and we crawled past the visitor moorings and eventually found a spot up towards Nantwich Junction Bridge No 92  where we could moor up for the night.

Being Nantwich, Nick and I decided to head into town for a couple of beers and, as usual, Nantwich was full of its usual collection of wannabee WAGs and noise. But we found our way to a good pub and worked our way along the pumps as we discussed a few things we wanted to do on the boat and we found out about a new brewery which didn’t change our plans for overnight stops but definitely firmed them up. Town was a little quieter as we wandered back to the embankment and all the boats were in darkness as we walked back along the towpath.